WASHINGTON — The D.C. attorney general’s office is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Maryland parents who it claims faked District residency to send their children to prestigious D.C. schools without paying tuition.
Attorney General Racine has filed a total of four lawsuits seeking nearly $700,000 in unpaid tuition as well as potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties.
In one case, Racine’s office said a Maryland mother fabricated D.C. residency to send her child to the prestigious Duke Ellington School of the Arts and also fraudulently enrolled herself and her children in the District’s food stamp program.
In all of the cases, parents submitted bogus addresses on official forms, the attorney general’s office said. The parents “lied repeatedly in documents” attesting to their D.C. residency, the AG’s office said in a news release.
Two of the parents sued by the AG are employees of D.C.’s Department of Corrections.
“Residency fraud, at its bottom, defrauds D.C. residents and D.C. parents and kids of the opportunity to be in the school of their choice.,” Racine told WTOP in an interview. Some of the schools at issue in the newly filed lawsuits are some of the most highly sought-after schools in D.C., including Duke Ellington and McKinley Tech High School, where families outside the normal attendance zone are stuck in lengthy waiting lists.
“So, it’s just not fair to D.C. residents that nonresidents are able to place their kids in schools and D.C. residents have to provide for alternatives,” Racine said.
The AG’s lawsuits are separate from a botched residency fraud investigation by D.C.’s Office of the State Superintendent for Education last spring targeting students at the prominent Georgetown arts school. The since-discredited report initially reported that more than 25 percent of students at the high-demand arts school were not actually District residents and improperly attending the school. A revised report issued last month later said more than two-thirds of the 219 students caught up in the probe were wrongly accused.
The attorney general takes referrals of residency fraud from OSSE but conducts its own investigations before suing parents.
“It’s important in these cases that we go through the due diligence of really examining all of the documentation, because, candidly, these cases can be difficult …. We pride ourselves on conducting a thorough investigation that really identifies the wrongdoers and not those who just may have sloppy paperwork,” Racine said.
D.C. public schools and public charter schools are free for District residents to attend. Children who live outside D.C. can apply to attend District schools but must pay tuition, which typically runs between $10,000 and $14,000 per year.
One of the lawsuits — filed against William and Cassandra Harrison, of Brandywine, Maryland — claims the couple sent three of their children to D.C. schools between 2012 and 2017, including Duke Ellington, Hyde-Addison Elementary and Hardy Middle School.
In addition, the lawsuit claims Cassandra Harrison fraudulently enrolled herself and her children in the District’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The lawsuit seeks damages of $258,253.
Ionosphere Torres, of Oxon Hill, Maryland, is accused of sending her four children to D.C. schools between 2014 and 2018, including McKinley Technology High School and Wheatley Middle School. The lawsuit seeks $188,196 in unpaid tuition.
Shawn Clark and Donnise Wortham, of Hyattsville, Maryland, are accused of sending two of their children to D.C. schools between 2007 and the current school year, including Ballou High School and Richard Wright Public Charter for Journalism and Media Arts. Both parents are employed by the D.C. Department of Corrections, according to the lawsuit. The suit seeks $192,000 in damages.
Shawn Clark is also named in a second lawsuit alongside Erica Pamela Fowler, also of Hyattsville, Maryland. The lawsuit claims the two sent their child to Capitol Hill Montessori School starting in 2017. The lawsuit is asking for $56,298 in unpaid tuition.
Racine said the D.C. Council has recently upped his office’s budget for handling residency fraud allowing for the hiring of more lawyers and investigations.
In May, the attorney general’s office sued two D.C. police officers and a D.C. teacher who the office said had faked residency and owed the District upward of $800,000 in unpaid tuition.
WTOP’s Dick Uliano contributed to this report.
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